Under Selig, game continues to flourish
Commissioner's guidance has MLB enjoying competitive balance and growth
The seasons roll by, one after another. Baseball remains in robust health -- competitively, commercially, any way you choose to measure.
Bud Selig has been the Commissioner of Major League Baseball for 21 years, the second-longest tenure of any Commissioner. At some point, the game's current popularity and prosperity can be measured only as the result of the policies he has pursued and enacted.
For instance, baseball had the sixth-largest attendance in its history in 2013. This was not an aberration. The top 10 seasons in attendance have all come in the last decade.
In an interview with MLB.com, Selig discussed his perspective on the baseball events of 2013. The game's indisputable popularity was high on his list.
"When you consider the state of the national economy, the numbers are phenomenal," Selig said. "Look at our attendance numbers. Look at our ratings. By any reasonable measurement, the grand old game has never been so popular."
The measurements of prosperity are evident in every direction you choose to look. Baseball had a gross income of $1.2 billion in 1992, the year in which Selig became Acting Commissioner. In 2013, the game grossed more than $8 billion.
Record television rights contracts have been signed both on the national and local levels. Franchise values have increased exponentially, to the point where the Los Angeles Dodgers were purchased for more than $2 billion.
These are reflections of a highly successful tenure in office. But when you ask the Commissioner what aspect of the game's growth gives him the most pride, the ultimate fan in him brings forth this response:
Selig experienced firsthand the trials, the tribulations and the limitations of a small-market franchise as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Thus, he brought to the Commissioner's Office a commitment to leveling the game's economic playing field as much as it could be leveled. Through a vastly increased system of revenue sharing and the implementation of the luxury tax, small-market teams throughout the Major Leagues have been able to not only compete, but win.
This is a direct result of policies that Selig has insisted upon, fought for and brought to reality. He has always believed that baseball owes its fans, of every franchise, genuine hope and faith that their teams can succeed.
"How many times have you heard me say it?" the Commissioner said. "The goal is to have hope and faith in as many places as possible.
"There are clubs that, if you consider 15 years ago, could not have competed at this level -- clubs such as Pittsburgh or Oakland."
The Athletics, competing against some major-market heavyweights, have won the American League West the last two seasons. The Pirates broke out of a 20-season losing streak in 2013 to not only post a winning season but reach the playoffs. This was exactly the kind of thing that Selig's policies envisioned.
"You saw it; the excitement, the drama the wonderful atmosphere at PNC Park in the postseason," Selig said. "All of it served as a perfect illustration of what we're trying to do."
As splendid as those developments were, the game -- a human undertaking -- would have some blemishes. The Biogenesis scandal featured a South Florida clinic supplying a number of Major League players with performance-enhancing drugs. But baseball, now with its own independent investigative arm, was able to pursue these cases with suitable vigor and ultimately apply the appropriate penalties to those involved.
Instances of cheating are never going to be routine matters for the game, but at least here the consequences for breaking the rules were made clear.
"We went through a long process to get to the toughest testing program in American sports," Selig said. "A program of that sort needs to be enforced strictly, enforced rigorously, at the highest level -- and it has been."
On other fronts, the Selig Commissionership continues to replace short-term controversy with long-term success. The expanded postseason, including the Wild Card round, was accompanied by howls of protest from traditionalists when it was introduced in 1995. But far from diluting the product, the Wild Card broadened the game's competition and drama. When the postseason field was expanded by one more team in each league in 2012, the objections were far fewer and the consequences continued to be positive.
The same was true for the advent of Interleague Play in 1997. This didn't ruin the game, either. The fans made this innovation work. Attendance for Interleague games has been consistently and markedly higher than attendance for conventional games.
The one aspect of this season that was different for the Commissioner was his official announcement that he would retire in January 2015. Twice previously, Selig has stated his intention to retire, but the owners have prevailed upon him to agree to an extension.
This time, with the Commissioner reaching age 80 by his retirement -- with his stated desire to teach at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, coupled with an official retirement announcement -- this appears to be the real retirement.
There is an excellent chance that the Commissioner will be leaving office on yet another high note.
In discussing the value of the 2013 season, Selig said:
"It was a great year on every conceivable level, and there you have the reason why so many people are already excited about next year."
This continues to be a better, healthier, more balanced sport than the one Bud Selig took over 21 years ago. In 2013, we saw one more season of both competitive and commercial success. By now, this is what it should be -- a reasonable expectation for every baseball season.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.